By Eliaser Ndeyanale
RETIRED politician Ben Ulenga, who spent 15 years in Robben Island prison with Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, has described the fallen icon as a “visionary, calculating and decisive leader”.
Ulenga, who was sent Robben Island after he was wounded and captured in 1978 by the then South African army, said he got to know Ya Toivo in prison, through the letters they smuggled to each other.
Ulenga said they used to write letters to each, and smuggled them from one section to another, because they were not incarcerated in the same section of the notorious apartheid prison, situated off the coast of Cape Town.
Ya Toivo served 16 years in the prison, in the same section as Nelson Mandela. He was released from prison in 1984 and rejoined Swapo in exile in Lusaka, Zambia.
Ulenga recalled this week, “We were denied all reading material, as well as the company of our fellow prisoners. After 15 years in prison with Andimba, I came to know him as a visionary, calculating and decisive leader, who loved his people.”
Ulenga said that Ya Toivo had inspired him from his youth.
“I was inspired by Ya Toivo, because he opened the doors for our liberation, by launching Swapo in Cape Town in 1960.
“I felt very appreciative of a fact that if it was not for him, and those who worked with him, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the national liberation struggle, and I wouldn’t be educated, because when I was on Robben Island, he used to be very educated on the Namibian situation, both politically and on socio-economic issues,” Ulenga said.
“I was very much inspired, because he was always ready to act according to his principles, unlike many politicians, and he was not prepared to compromise any of his principles for those who tried to pressurise him.
“I was inspired and strengthened – not only me, but also other people – especially those who spent time with him on Robben Island. He was our leader in prison and outside prison.”
“Andimba was humble and honest – he had a dream for his people. When I was young, I saw his picture in a magazine, which I cut out and kept, as I admired him as a young boy,” Ulenga said.
Retired diplomat Marten Kapewasha said Ya Toivo inspired many people.
“He was a leading figure in the 1960s, when the first freedom fighters arrived in Namibia.”
South African Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) Deputy National Secretary, Mpho Masemola, said Ya Toivo was a rare leader, who stood firm, in terms of his objective of liberating Namibia.
Masemola, who was also imprisoned on Robben Island, described Ya Toivo as a diligent, reliable and committed man, who his country held in high regard.
“Comrade Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was an outstanding leader, a rare leader and a tested revolutionary militant leader, who stood firm,” he said, while further describing the Namibian icon as “sharp and intellectual”.
Another anti-apartheid struggle veteran 82-year-old Helao Shityuwete, who was also imprisoned on Robben Island under the then anti-terrorism laws, reiterated that Ya Toivo was the leader of the Namibians in prison.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015